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The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books (August 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023660
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Dumped by her boyfriend and dissed by her academic advisor, disconsolate graduate student Nora Fischer wanders off a beaten mountain path smack-dab into a parallel universe seemingly populated by glamorous refugees from a Fellini film. Every night is party night for the suddenly and inexplicably gorgeous Nora, who is the unwitting victim of numerous spells cast by Ilissa, her mentor/captor and the undisputed leader of the glamorous gang. Married off to Ilissa’s son, who harbors a brutally dark secret, she realizes too late that all is not as it seems beneath the shining veneer of her new world. Making her escape with the aid of an enigmatic wizard who tutors her in magic, she becomes increasingly drawn to him and faces a tough choice when an opportunity to slip back through the portal to her former life presents itself. This dark fairy tale has plenty of curb appeal for a wide range of fantasy, time-travel, and alternate-reality fans. --Margaret Flanagan


“Centered on more adult concerns than the Harry Potter books, Barker’s debut is full of allusions to dark fairy tales and literary romances.  If Hermione Granger had been an American who never received an invitation to Hogwarts, this might have been her story.”
People Magazine

"A marvelous plot, clever dialogue, and complex characters distinguish The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic. With the intimacy of a classic fairy-tale and the rollicking elements of modern epic fantasy, Emily Croy Barker’s delightful debut will sweep readers into another world. Fun, seductive, and utterly engrossing, this wonderful tale of magic and adventure is a perfect escape from humdrum reality."
Deborah Harkness, author of the All Souls Trilogy

"To read The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is to enter a lush, fantastical dream filled with beauty and strangeness, love and cruelty, playfulness and gravitas. Emily Barker has crafted a wholly imaginative and witty debut novel that is unlike any I've read. Mind candy for those of us raised on Harry Potters!"
Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants

“Think of this book as Hermione Granger: The Grad School Years. An entertaining tale capably told.”

“Barker weaves together classic fantasy and romantic elements (including shout-outs to Pride and Prejudice and hints of Wuthering Heights) to produce a well-rounded, smooth, and subtle tale.”
Publishers Weekly

"Like in Harkness’s work, as the novel closes, Barker leaves Nora poised on the brink of a decision that could lead to another adventure. This reviewer can’t wait. . . . Readers who love magical fantasy adventures with strong female protagonists will enjoy Barker’s novel. And fans of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians may also want to try this.
Library Journal

"This dark fairy tale has plenty of curb appeal for a wide range of fantasy, time-travel, and alternate-reality fans."

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is a medieval fairy tale with a deliciously dark twist . . . a thoroughly enchanting read. . . . Barker has spun a clever, lush yarn that is uniquely its own.”

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic embraces many of the things that make portal stories so perennial, with just enough twists that it seems to be in conversation with some of its forebears . . . and . . . suggest[s] deeper issues of power and gender waiting to be explored.”

"Emily Croy Barker has written a sophisticated fairy tale that has one foot through the looking glass and the other squarely planted in the real world. Both classic and wholly original, The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is an imaginative synthesis of the stories that delighted us as children and the novels that inspired us as adults."
Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street

“'I wish my life were different. I don’t care how.' So begins perpetual grad student and recently jilted Nora Fischer’s grand adventure into a wonderfully imaginative world of illusion and real magic that reveals the importance of a curious and open mind, learning and love. Author Emily Croy Barker has great fun toying with our ever-shifting notions of work, beauty, belonging, and reality—creating a delightful book for anyone longing to escape the everyday (and who isn’t?!)."
Karen Engelmannauthor of The Stockholm Octavo

“A clever and scrumptious debut fantasy, the kind you happily disappear into for days.”
—Kelly Linkauthor of Magic for Beginners

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Customer Reviews

Nora is a well rounded character and the world she moves in is very well crafted.
Manuel Gonzalez Aguade
I was so excited to read this book and loved the start...but once I got into it I couldn't believe how SLOW it moved.
Cindy J Fackler
The ending wasn't really satisfying, either; it seemed flat, or abrupt; just not much there.
florida reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Meg Cox VINE VOICE on August 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I read all kinds of books, including the classics. When it comes to reading page-turners, I like them to be well-written as well.

This book is one of those, like Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches, where you won't feel like an idiot once you've stayed up all night reading, because the author is clever and intelligent and the story and characters suck you right in.
The conceit is more Alice in Wonderland than Harry Potter, but for grown-ups. The lead character is a graduate student in literature who accidentally wanders into a magic kingdom. It seems pretty heavenly at first, but it soon becomes clear that appearances are deceiving and that she is a prisoner. The only way she can escape is to learn magic herself.

It's an old saw, to be sure, but a book of this kind only succeeds if the unreal world feels real while you're reading, and this one is so deeply imagined and occupied by such quirky dark characters, that I bought it completely.
This book was a pure joy to read, and I can hardly wait for the sequel, which is said to be in the works.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By B. Rubin on October 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Poor Nora! Her boyfriend has unceremoniously dumped her, work as a graduate student is going poorly, and her boss has put Nora on notice that unless there are significant improvements in her work product, Nora will be 'kaput' in her department. A sad start for our not-so-intrepid heroine. In fact, a SLOW start. Nora manages to find a hole in space and time and blunders into another world. Being lost and looking for directions, Nora discovers a fantastic, chic, entertaining world filled with equally fantastic, chic, and entertaining people. People who seem to change clothes at will, beautify themselves and Nora on a whim, and generally party 24/7. At this point, I was wondering why Nora, as a literature major (an expert in memorizing poetry) didn't start thinking about the fae... La Belle Dame sans Merci... Darby O'Gill and the Little People, for goodness sake! But, sadly, no. She bloops along believing everything and everyone. Nora is boring. It goes badly for her. Very badly. (END OF URBAN FANTASY/HORROR NOVEL) Luckily, she is rescued, eventually, by a cranky, scarred magician (don't call him a wizard!). Now begins her long, long days of life as a drudge/guest with said magician-- and she continues to be weak, pathetic, and boring. She describes her daily life in great detail. Lots of pot cleaning and sheep shearing. The magician has little truck with her until she manages to convince him to teach her magic. (END HISTORICAL TIME-TRAVEL NOVEL) The book continues, switching from a fantasy adventure (Nora begins to show a bit of spunk, the best section of the whole book is where she boldly trades pot-mending services to the villagers for mundane items in order to ultimately trade for a new pair of boots.Read more ›
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jeannie Zelos on August 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic Emily Croy Barker.

ARC provided by Netgalley.

I love books about magic, but as this is Emily's début novel I didn't know what to expect. Its been compared to Deborah Harness Witches trilogy which I love, so I put in my request. Started it yesterday and was engrossed and transported into a different world.
It starts in a fairly conventional way, then Grad student Nora wanders off from a wedding party into a churchyard...and steps through into another dimension, populated with all sorts of folk including the Faitloren, a magical group who need her for a specific reason. There follows all sorts of adventures. Fabulous parties with amazing food and clothes, sunshine and sweetness everyday. Nora meets all sorts of people from history, goes all over the world in the blink of an eye and doesn't find anything strange about this, except occasionally a little voice in the back of her mind says "is this real", but then Ilissa plans another party and the roundabout starts again. Once Raclin marries Nora then a different side to the group emerges, and she learns the truth about her friends but she's trapped.
The story is full of kidnappings, rescues, escapes, magical creatures and dangerous undertakings. The magician Aruendiel has taken her in reluctantly, and over the following months she works in his household with his long time housekeeper. Slowly she persuades him to teach her magic, it takes up time but that's something she has in abundance, not knowing when or if ever she can return home.
The descriptions, first of the wonderful parties Ilissa has, and then of the castles and places Nora visits are wonderful.
Read more ›
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Famolari VINE VOICE on August 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Nora, a disillusioned grad student, goes to the wedding of a friend, wanders off on her own, and finds herself in an alternate universe. At first she's not sure it's an alternate universe. The gardens she walks through are magnificent, the owner of the house is beautiful and intelligent, and all the people she meets are gorgeous. That's not to mention the parties. Things, as it usually turn out, are too good to be true. Nora finds she can't remember things. She wonders what's happening to her mind. Some of the people turnout to be less beautiful than they appear on the surface.

Accidentally she wanders across the boundary of her kingdom and meets people who inhabit the next kingdom. They tell her in no uncertain terms that she's dealing with a group of bad people who use magic to get what they want. One of the men, a magician, offers to help her if she needs to escape. She is sure she never will, but life if full of surprises.

I didn't enjoy this book. I found Nora too unhappy and listless to be an attractive heroine. She does get some guts later in the story, but for me it was too late. The book is very long. It feels as if we're following Nora around looking into an alternate universe, but not much exciting is happening.

If you really love fantasy, you may enjoy this book, but it will take a long time to get through it. If you enjoy books with a fast moving plot, this is not for you. Give it a miss.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.
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